The Kind of Subtle Nightmares I Have

Last night, I was a young boy. I was at some house in the countryside. Some quiet little place in the middle of nowhere. In the dream, I knew the place. In reality, I don’t.

I was there visiting relatives, I guess, which is odd because in real life I don’t really know my relatives outside of my so-called nuclear family. But the people in the dream, I guess they were were uncles and aunts and cousins and everything and we all got on fine. Except for one little boy.

He was about three or four years old by the look of him, but he was as well spoken as any adult. He was small and frail and his face was always blank, emotionless. He gave the quiet impression that he didn’t want us here. Not for long, anyway. He was my cousin, I guess, but he didn’t seem to fit in with the rest of the family. He was the only redhead, for one thing. He didn’t seem cut from the same genetic material. Maybe he was adopted. Either way, he always referred to the house as being his.

He seemed kind enough, for the most part. He told me I was welcome in his home. He told me he was happy to have me there. He told me I could stay for two days. Two. He was very clear about that, should I get any ideas about staying longer.

I ventured out with siblings and cousins to get lunch, everybody breaking off into groups. The boy in question followed me and stayed quiet all the while. I wished he’d find somebody else to follow around, but I didn’t want to upset him by telling him so. He seemed fond of me, in a distant sort of way.

At dark we had a bonfire, and after having disappeared for a while, the boy returned with burns up and down his arms. I asked him what happened and whether he was okay. He said it happens sometimes, just the way his skin is. I tried to approach him to look at the wounds and he backed me off. He said, “If you touch it, you’ll burn.”

His mother gave me a silent glance, seemed to tell me, Yes, it’s true.

Later when I was going to bed, I asked the boy, “Why will I burn if I touch you?”

He said, “It’s just the way it is. Same thing if you stay more than two days.”

That’s when I woke up from the dream within the dream (now awake in Dream Layer 1 instead of Dream Layer 2). In Dream Layer 1, I was in a hotel, halfway through one of the many road trips my family used to take when I was a child. I was maybe twelve years old in this world. I told my family about the weird, creepy dream I’d had.

In Dream Layer 1 I knew all the people I’d seen in Dream Layer 2, these aunts and uncles and cousins, even though outside of the dream they don’t exist. I knew the house too, though it’s not real either. It was my aunt’s house, and in Dream Layer 1, about two years earlier, we’d visited the place and hung out with a lot of extended family there, all those same people from the dream. It had been a good time.

How long had we stayed? Well, if memory served, it was two days.

One little difference though: Now awake in Dream Layer 1, for the life of me, I couldn’t remember ever having seen that little redheaded boy before. He, it seemed, was an invention of my subconscious. Why he’d needed to be invented, who knew.

Nobody was worried about the dream because, hey, it was just a stupid dream. But my dad brought to light a weird coincidence. He told me that while he hadn’t mentioned it to us yet, on this road trip we were progressing through, we were going to go to that same house and meet those cousins again for a while.

This time, he told me, we’d be staying a whole week.

I like when I get dreams like that — with a beginning, a middle, and an end. With false awakenings and cliffhangers. Most dreams are boring to retell, but once in a while your mind puts one together nicely.

My next novel, In Nightmares We’re Alone, tells three interconnected stories, each based on a nightmare I’ve had. This isn’t one of them, but the ones I’m using are pretty good too.

In Nightmares We’re Alone may not be out by Halloween, but it’ll be out by the end of the year. I promise.

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